Chris Blattman

Haiti and the Charter City

Contrary to what some have suggested, a charter city in Haiti is simply not an option at this time. A charter city can only be created through voluntary agreement. Under the current conditions, the government and people of Haiti do not have the freedom of choice required for any agreement reached now to be voluntary.

That is Paul Romer, finding himself in the unusual position of quelling enthusiasm for a Charter City. Well, at least one in Haiti. He points out there is a better solution to putting Haiti under charter: a Charter City for Haitians elsewhere.

There are clear limits on the number of Haitian immigrants that nearby jurisdictions are currently prepared to accept. But if nations in the region created just two charter cities, they could accept the entire population of Haiti as residents. There are many locations close to Haiti where these new cities could be built, but for now, Haiti itself is the one place we should not consider.

I’ve expressed skepticism about Charter Cities before, but I think this is as good a time as any to see proposals.Whatever the systemic risks of a new system of rules, they may be no less than the systemic risks that will face a future Haiti. A little diversification would not hurt.

While we’re at it, however, we could diversify a little more. If half the OECD countries each took 50,000 refugees, even on temporary visas, that would be a 750,000 people sending back remittances. (Come on, Canada. Even the Senegalese are offering to let them come.)

I have now exhausted my (non-existent) knowledge of migration and refugee issues. I would love to see comments those actually informed about such matters.

8 Responses

  1. Migration is a moral issue, not a development issue. My blog here goes through this in more detail:

    A central point: “Conceiving the reduction of poverty at the individual level underplays the central importance of structural determinants of poverty. Except in the extreme case where all inhabitants of poor countries migrate to rich countries, poverty reduction depends on improvements in the economic conditions that obtain within specific geographical borders. One major argument in favour of easier migration is that it will allow increased remittances back to home countries. The problem is that this argument basically operates on the assumption that what hampers development at ‘home’ is money, not institutions, economic structures, or quality of and forms of governance.”

    Shawn – I think it’s because the author is Canadian.

    One reason I would not demand a Charter City set up fro Haitians (apart from my deep skepticism about the concept) is Haiti’s history. Setting up a Charter City for them will be an admission of its failure as a sovereign state. Given what they went through to set up an independent state, I think it’s not something anyone else can demand on Haiti’s part.

    Also, the natural disaster does not mean growth in the future is impossible. Schumpeter used the example of natural disasters in Europe to demonstrate his Creative Destruction ideas: after such terrible events, many countries managed incredible growth, on better growth paths than they had previously been on (one immediate example might be Japan after the bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the country was occupied).

    This earthquake was a terrible disaster, but is not an excuse to give up on Haiti. It had been growing, in real terms, for the last 6 years or so before the quake. Don’t forget that.

  2. Is there a reason you pointed out Canada specifically instead of the US or any other country? Because Romer has mentioned them before as setting up charter cities?

    1. Do have a look at the wider project findings at
      if you’re interested in this further.

      And for the latest comment on it by one of the few world experts on remittances see the blog by Dilip Ratha here:

      I think there remains considerable potential for improved assistance to disaster-affected people though closer collaboration between aid agencies, migrant communities, and the affected state.

      However a notable finding from the Gonaives study was that even though some 25% of Haiti’s economy is remittances, they are by no means evenly distributed and did not play quite the role one might have expected from such a figure in those affected in Gonaives by the cyclone.

      It would be interesting to know whether there exists more specific data about remittance flows to Haiti by recipient location and total income level. The latest OCHA SITREP mentions that local banks are working now on setting up 30 – 40 terminals around the city to re-establish access to people’s bank accounts. Cash assistance, perhaps through the same mechanisms, would be inherently complementary to remittances and protect people from the price inflations that are occurring (if inflation is short-term markets can re-establish and overcome supply problems). While there may in the very short term be need for in-kind imports by aid agencies, Haiti may be a case where cash assistance will be appropriate for assisting people to meet some or many of their needs in recovery.

      1. Post-script:
        Recalled Manuel Orozco’s work on Haiti the remittance economy in Haiti.pdf , which explains the patterns and shows that the Port-au-Prince is, unsurprisingly, the main recipient of remittance flows – fascinating information on social status of recipients and their usage of and dependence on remittances that will be relevant to recovery planning and assistance.

  3. Chris, those displaced by natural disasters are only ‘refugees’ in the newspapers; they are just ‘displaced people’ in the courtroom or classroom.

    Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration has done a lot on the role of remittances, including both what they do (insure families) and they don’t do (substitute for ‘traditional’ aid).

    Here is an article on remittances and disaster relief in Haiti: and on remittances and disaster relief in Haiti.

    And a handy lit review on the ins and outs of the complicated question of remittances and development:

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